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Good samaritan loses special watch

A commercial truck driver left his watch, a memento from his deceased father, in the trunk of a woman's car whose tire he was changing.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 27, 2000


Dennis Birk was trying to do a good deed when he stopped and changed a flat tire for a woman stranded on busy Spring Hill Drive.

But shortly after the woman was safely on her way, the New Port Richey man realized he had left one of his most cherished possessions -- his dead father's wristwatch -- in the trunk of her car.

"I just remember being so tired, and all I could think about was getting home," said Birk, a commercial truck driver who was into his 19th hour on the clock during the late morning hours of Oct. 11. "But when I saw her standing there by her passenger door, I knew she needed some help."

Just finished with a liquor delivery to Walgreens, Birk said he saw the blue Honda Accord stopped on the shoulder of busy Spring Hill Drive with a flat tire.

When he took the spare tire from the trunk, Birk said he took the watch off and laid it in the trunk to keep from breaking the crystal. At the time, Birk said his biggest concern was that a passing car would hit him as he bent to change the tire. The car, he said, was barely off the pavement.

"I was twice as nervous as she was," said Birk, who described the woman as in her early to mid 20s with blond hair.

"Her English was broken, and she didn't really seem to understand when I told her to stand back off the road."

Birk did understand that the woman's first name was Olga and that she had been in the county about four months after leaving her native Poland. At 6 foot 2 and 240 pounds, Birk said he didn't ask too many questions for fear of frightening the woman.

"A lot of times, people who are stuck like that feel vulnerable and intimidated," he said. "I just wanted to help her and get back on the road."

At his next stop, Birk went to sign a delivery sheet and noticed the watch, a gold-toned Seiko his father bought in 1966 at a post exchange while serving in Vietnam, was gone.

"That watch is one of the things I remember from when I was a kid," said Birk, who is now 45. "One of the things my father and I had in common was that we both loved clocks."

Birk got the watch five years ago after his father died. When his father's birthday came around a week ago, Birk said he started to panic.

"That was the day when it really hit me," he said. Until recently, Birk kept the watch in a dresser drawer. The watchband, with a gold finish that had rubbed through to silver, sometimes irritated his arm.

"About three years ago, I started to take it out every now and then and wear it," he said. "Now I wish I hadn't."

Pasco sheriff's officials told Birk that without the woman's license plate number or last name, they could not help.

"I don't take down anybody's tag when I stop to help them fix a tire," Birk said. "It just never occurred to me."

Being his first trip to Spring Hill, Birk also didn't know exactly what part of Spring Hill Drive he was on.

When the job was done, the woman asked Birk if he thought the small spare tire would make the trip to Tampa Road in Oldsmar because she had a job interview.

"And that's about all I know of her," said Birk. "I don't know what to think at this point, but I don't think this is something she did on purpose."

After more than two weeks of desperately trying to find the woman, Birk said he is nearly ready to give up. The watch "probably wouldn't get three bucks at a pawn shop," Birk said, but it is very valuable to him.

"I know I could buy a replacement for $29, but it would never be the same," he said. "It's like someone hit me in the gut."

Anyone with information about the woman or the watch is asked to call (727) 846-8364.

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